Robert Krulwich of NPR and RadioLab fame wrote on his NPR column about the idea of explaining chemistry as nothing more complicated than high school! OK, well, maybe high school was a little more complicated for some, but it’s still a great way to break down the relationships chemicals have with each other.
Generations of budding scientists, including some of the greatest ones, learned chemistry by imagining the periodic table as a playground of sluts, bullies, snobs and wallflowers. Chemistry, after all, is about making and breaking bonds. It’s about attraction and repulsion. You can think of bonds as covalent, ionic or metallic, but it is just as easy to think of atoms cuddling or being ripped apart by a hydrogen with a ponytail or smashing a repulsive atom into a plate of jello.
The great physicist Freeman Dyson says as a boy he would gaze for hours at the Periodic Table chemicals on display at a London museum, "thinking how wonderful it was that each of these metal foils and jars of gas had its own distinct personality."
Oliver Sacks, the great neurologist, says when he was a kid, he felt sorry for gases like Argon and Krypton and Neon. Their inability to bond with other chemicals (did you notice them not talking to anyone, looking bored?) reminded him of his own shyness, his inability to make friends. "I think I identified at times with the inert gases," he wrote in his memoir Uncle Tungsten. He imagined them "lonely, cut off, yearning to bond."
Continue reading "Carbon Goes Wild" on NPR.
I LOVE this for so many reasons.
- It’s teaching kids science in new ways
- It’s creative and requires a little bit of artistic skill (just role with me here)
- It is anthropomorphizing chemicals! I am the worst (or best?) when it comes to anthropomorphizing stuff, so I’m glad that I’m in the same category as several brilliant chemists throughout history. Too bad I couldn’t STAND it in high school.